The most frustrating experience a backpacker can have is lying awake in the sleeping bag and unable to sleep. It feels like a mild form of torture plus you will feel tired and cranky the next morning. Hence it becomes very important to have a good night sleep on a trek. Having a sound sleep will help you to relax and will repair your muscles. Spending a night under the stars can be a beautiful experience but only if you are able to sleep properly. After a long day trek comes to an end and your body is begging for a good sound, however getting comfortable on the ground, blocking out weird noises, dealing with no temperature control makes it really difficult. Every trekker should learn the smart skills of getting a good night’s sleep. And remember it is not about digging a hole in your pocket on fancy brands. I’ll share some tips on how you can keep yourself cozy in your sleeping bag and have a restful night.
Before we start with the tips, let’s clear the basics first.
First one, which sleeping bag to choose before going on a trek, synthetic or down. This topic has endless debates in the trekking community. The controversy which goes on between the two.
Down has more warmth-to-weight ratio as compared to synthetic material. And is more comfortable. However the down material loses its warmth, if it’s wet. So which one should you be choosing? Well, if you don’t mind carrying a little extra weight and expect little cold and you don’t want to empty your bank balance then surely go for synthetic without a doubt. On the other hand, if you trekking to extremely cold harsh trails, then surely down is the right choice.
And secondly, a sleeping bag should be a fancy brand so it can provide heat to the body while sleeping while keeping the bag warm and cozy. Well, actually it is completely opposite. The main function of the sleeping bag is to trap the heat produced by your body which keeps you warm at night. There are few things which you should follow below to maximize the efficiency of a sleeping bag and keep you warm.
Now that you have got the basics done, we will now move on how to sleep soundly on your next trekking trip.
PICK QUALITY SLEEPING BAG
Picking a good and high quality sleeping bag is extremely important. Although not all sleeping bags are created equally. A good sleeping bag will give you the comfort of a padded surface without adding load on your rucksack. Set yourself for the night by putting something soft between you and the hard ground. So before you just go out and buy a sleeping bag, you will also need a close foam mat. They both go hand in hand. A foam mat or sleeping mat will prevent the loss of heat to the ground and the sleeping bag will help to trap your body heat inside, combining these two makes it comfortable.
When you go out to buy sleeping bags, you will get varieties to choose from. They vary from different weather conditions to different styles and fabrics. In recent times, trekking has got luxury products to it, air pads and self inflating mattresses are easily available and easy to carry. However a simple closed foam mat works perfectly as a natural insulator.
Tip: Go for a close foam mat, it is cheaper and easily available and better insulator. It can be strapped to the side of the backpack.
PICK RIGHT TENT SPOT
You will have to be strategic before you pitch your tent. Choose a surface as flat as possible and on grass, if possible. If the surface is rocky, move the rocks and use leaves to make it even. You want to free yourself from any discomforts. You can always look for 2-3 spots and check each one properly before you set your camp.
In case you have a shared campsite, you can pitch your tent little away from those noisy neighbours, but don’t pitch too far away. Also in case you have to sleep on a hill, position your sleeping bag so your head is higher than your body. This will keep the blood rushing to the head.
WARM UP YOUR SLEEPING BAG
So basically your sleeping bag relies totally on the air trapped between the fibers for its insulation. Although it does lose some of its abilities when squeezed into the backpack between other things. Usually taking out the sleeping bag once you reach your campsite is a best practice. It allows the bag to expand and regain the insulation properties. Now this is the time to warm up your sleeping bag. Putting a hot water bottle inside the bag will work as a heater and will warm it up for you. Do not place the bottle around the feet, instead keep it near chest and core. Close the lid tightly to avoid chances of accidentally opening the bottle.
You can also reduce the ambient space in your sleeping bag as this will ensure your body has less amount of area to heat up inside the sleeping bag. Choosing a mummy shaped sleeping bag is a more optimal choice for a trekker rather than air pads. Layer yourself properly to avoid any heat loss.
Tip : The hot water is easily available and will work as a heater for you. Plus in case you feel dehydrated you can use the water for drinking purposes either at night or in the morning.
NEVER SLEEP EMPTY STOMACH
Like it is always advised to eat food which has less amount of fat, but for trekking it is opposite. You need to include those foods which have high calories and are rich in fats and proteins in your dinner. These take time to metabolize, hence provide energy for a longer duration. Trekkers need high carbohydrates during the day and high fat and protein amount during the night. Your body is the primary source of heat, so your last meal should be fatty and close to bedtime.
You really need to avoid caffeine and alcohol after the late afternoon. Although it’s common in many trekkers, drinking them before bedtime is not a good idea. Alcohol initially will make you feel warm and drowsy but it interferes with your sleep and temperature during the latter half of the night.
Tip : You can also eat nuts, butter or peanut butter, granola bars or protein bars, cheese, chocolates and eggs too. These foods are rich in protein and fat both. Also changes the taste.
DRY FIT OVER COTTON
A good night’s sleep is possible when you are completely dry. While you are sleeping inside the bag, there are chances you might sweat. Therefore if you are sleeping wearing cotton, it will absorb the moisture and remain wet. And this will make you feel cold. Use dry-fit clothes with moisture wicking materials like wool and polyester. After the complete day trek, the clothes get wet with sweat and sleeping in the same clothes will use your body heat to dry them. Once you reach your camp, the smarter way is to slip into a fresh set of clothes before going to sleep – top to bottom. Let them dry overnight so they are ready to be worn for tomorrow.
Tip: Carry an extra pair of clothes for night/sleep.
DRINK SLEEPYTIME TEA
It is always a good idea to drink something warm before going to bed. However make sure that the drink should be warm and not hot. A hot drink will get you sweating again. You can go for tea or milk(if available), it will keep you warm and cozy. Do not attempt to drink coffee as caffeine proves to be an interference with sleep. If you don’t have tea or milk, you can also go for some hot water. Basically, drinking a warm beverage prepares your body for sleep. Once you drink them, your body cools down and in response to the temperature change, your brain accepts it’s time for sleep.
Tip: You can carry sachets of green tea, you just need hot water and are easy to carry.
COVER YOUR BODY PROPERLY
Now although you have tucked yourself well in and have followed all the previous tips. You have warmed up your sleeping bag and changed your clothes to new ones, the next thing you need to do is to cover up your body extremities. Most of the body’s heat escapes from these extremities. Finers, toes and head are very important to cover when you sleep. But keep in mind you do not cover your nose. Covering the nose inside the sleeping bag will increase the humidity due to respiration and because of which it can become difficult to breathe after some time. You can use a money cap which will protect your head and ears from the cold, and you can use it to cover your face just below your nose. Another alternative can be to use a scarf to cover the face.
Use socks to cover your feet/toes and gloves for your hands. A woollen cap is a must if you are going during cold weather and use the cap to save your body heat. If you have covered your extremities, chances are you will be safe from the cold and will be able to sleep in comfort.
Tip: Socks worn at night can be worn the next day inside the cold shoes and will keep your feet warm.
BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS
Well what exactly a sound sleep needs after you have all the possible measures. Yes, the sounds of insects can be irritating and what adds to it, the bugs/mosquitoes inside your tent. Always make sure there are no holes in your tent. While purchasing a tent, spend a few extra bucks and buy the one with mosquito netting. Before pitching your tent, make sure it is on a high and dry ground and not near swamps or ponds. Do not use perfumes during the trek, the smell attracts both insects and animals. When packing a insect-repellent, choose the one which is water resistance. Safely store and dispose of the remaining food. Although it’s a basic camping etiquette, it will also keep the wildlife away. Remember you will sleep better when you know you are safe.
Tip: Carry ear-plugs and eye mask, they will help you more for a sound sleep. Always pack insect repellent irrespective of the trail.
USE RESTROOM BEFORE BED
Do you know what is the last thing you want to do when you are snug in your sleeping bag? When you have to get up to relieve yourself or to pee. There’s a chill in the air and your sleeping bag is all warm and cozy, no one likes to get up at that time. Many people even hold their urine in order to remain inside the bag. Well you might be surprised to know that to keep the urine warm in the bladder, your body actually needs to burn extra calories. And yes when the situation comes, you will have to take the hard call of going out in the middle of the night. However you can avoid this situation to a certain level by using the washroom one hour before you go to sleep and immediately before sleeping. This way you will have an empty bladder which will result in sound sleep. Moreover, if you do go to urinate in the middle of the night then it helps you to feel warmer and more comfortable while sleeping.
Tip: Do not drink too much water before going to sleep. And urinate just before going to sleep.
FOLLOW YOUR ROUTINE
A good practice is to make your brain understand, it is a normal daily routine which you are following. Use your usual bedtime routine while you are on trek to help your body adjust to sleeping outdoors. Try to follow the same routine for atleast 2-3 days. Likewise maintain the morning schedule as well. Your regular routine will help your body and mind for sleep. Follow the regular activities like brushing your teeth or read or meditate or listen to music, this will help your brain to understand that it’s bedtime now. Irregular sleep hours will certainly disrupt the body routine and will make it tougher to fall asleep when you want to.
Tip: Follow your regular routine for atleast 2-3 days to adjust with the change. Read your favourite book or listen to some soothing songs before you go to sleep.
STAY CALM AND LEARN TO ADAPT
No matter how much prepared and determined you come for trekking, at the end when you have to sleep in the outdoors then it does get a little odd and unsettling. There might be situations wherein you will have trouble falling asleep for the first few nights or getting distubed with little noise. Remember you will face these and you have to stay calm. Getting panic will not only hamper your sleep but even your tent mates will also suffer. You will have to divert your mind by deep breathing, thinking about something else or meditation, anything which helps you. And once you get used to the change, you will automatically fall asleep as the sun goes down and wake up easily in the morning.
Nevertheless, you will also need to learn to adapt to nature and this is a trait of a great and smart trekker. Trekking is fun because it let’s you get out of your comfort zone. You won’t have everything you need and that’s where you will need to be creative on how you can use it and make the best of what you have. While preparing food if you are left with some extra hot water, you can store it in a heat resistant water bottle and use it as a natural heater inside your sleeping bag. Similarly, if your legs are cold, use a t-shirt/warmer to cover them. It will warm your legs and you will have a warm piece of clothing to wear for the next day. Change is the law of life similarly innovation is the law of trekking.
Before finishing your trek, as a beginner make some notes of the problems like your sleeping bag was cold or the tent was not wind resistant or the padding/foam was inappropriate. These things will help you in making a better decision maker for your next trek and you will improve for each trip in future. So these were some of my tips which helped me to keep myself warm on a winter trek while sleeping. I really hope these will come in handy for you also. If you happen to use any of these and get benefited then please share your story or experience with us. We would love to hear it.
HAPPY TREKKING TO ALL